Venezuela: 22 dead and more than 50 missing in landslide
Homes and businesses destroyed, mudslides, trees uprooted… at least 22 people died and 52 are missing after a landslide late Saturday afternoon in Las Tejerias, an industrial city in central Venezuela.
The heavy rains that have been going on for weeks have already claimed the lives of 13 people across the country.
“Five streams have overflowed and (…) we are seeing very great damage here, human losses: to date we have already found 22 dead, more than 52 people are missing,” was the first assessment by Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez.
In Las Tejerias, the tragedy happened after three hours of heavy rain that began on Saturday afternoon. Several rivers burst their banks, washing land, rocks, and trees away from the mountainsides that border the town of about 50,000 people.
– “climate change”
The city, which is about fifty kilometers southwest of Caracas, now has an apocalyptic look, with houses and shops burned out and mud seeping into the streets.
Huge trees and cars were swept away and now litter the main street, strewn with bits of wood, sheet metal and other debris.
“The city is lost, Las Tejerias is lost,” laments Carmen Melendez, who has lived there for 55 years.
With tears, Loryis Verenzuela, 50, contemplates the extent of the disaster:. “I never thought something like this could happen, it’s strong!”.
President Nicolas Maduro declared three days of national mourning in “Solidarity with Families” and promised residents that “they are not alone!”.
A thousand people are taking part in the rescue operations, Interior and Justice Minister Remigio Ceballos, who was on site to assess the damage, told AFP.
“We had a huge landslide, a result of climate change,” the minister said, attributing the rain to the passage of Hurricane Julia further north in Venezuela.
During his visit, Mr. Ceballos Ichaso clarified that “a record amount of rainfall” fell on the city, assuring that the average amount of water falling in a month fell in one day. “These heavy rains have saturated the ground,” added the minister.
Machine-equipped teams of workers cleared streets covered in mud and debris on Sunday. In images captured by drones deployed by rescue teams, large amounts of mud and dirt can be seen covering several streets in Las Tejerias, where residents were trying to shovel tons of mud off homes.
Carmen anxiously awaits the news of Margot Silva, a missing relative. She lives in a nearby town and had traveled to Las Tejerias to run errands.
“It’s the first time we’ve seen something like this, we know we’ll get over it, but we regret the loss of life,” Carmen told AFP.
Many people are offering their help on social media, and Los Leones, the major Caracas baseball club, said it organized a collection of non-perishable food, bottled water and clothing for the victims.
Opponent Juan Guaido assessed on Twitter that it was necessary to support the victims and “respond to the emergency” and criticized a “dictatorship that seizes power without caring about the people”.
In 1999, massive landslides in the state of Vargas, 25 kilometers north of Caracas, claimed 10,000 lives.
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